Mary Ann Sieghart is right to say that the economic policies followed by Britain over the past 10 years would have been even more disastrous if Britain had also been a member of the eurozone. ("Where have all the europhiles gone?", 4 July). The housing boom would have been bigger, and the financial-services bubble would have caused even more harm when it burst.
But why should we have followed those economic polices anyway? They have hardly been a notable success outside the euro, what with the resulting collapse of the banking system and a record peacetime public deficit. The case for the euro was never that it would be simply business as usual with different banknotes.
Countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, which did join the euro, did not boom uncontrollably and have not crashed so severely. They are now growing out of recession faster than us, and are not told that they have an urgent need to slash public services in order to maintain access to the international bond markets.
Mary Ann Sieghart in her rush to screech "I told you so" ignores the fact that Gordon Brown did not take us into the euro because the original conditions for joining were not met by so many other countries. He was right to keep us out, and his action proves that no matter how good an idea is, it has to be run properly – not that the euro is a bad idea.
Greece should never have been admitted to the euro because it is so badly run. Ms Sieghart, glorying in the sayings of the "No" campaign, forgets that we stayed out because that decision was taken on the facts and not the hysterical ravings of the anti-everything-European mob.
Ms Sieghart asserts that the crisis in the UK would have been worse had we joined the euro but offers no evidence to support this. The UK had to contribute significant amounts to bail out Ireland and will certainly be contributing more in the future through the IMF and other channels for Greece.
If we look at the course of our economy over the past couple of years, it is difficult to see that there would have been significant difference for us had we been a part of the eurozone; our economies are too integrated and dependent to be anything but deeply affected by events in the eurozone.
Since 2008 the interest rates set by the Bank of England and the ECB have been very similar. As is naturally the case in economies that are so mutually dependent, not only have we suffered the same problems over the past few years, we have also come to broadly similar solutions. Any notion that refusal to join the euro somehow made the nature of our economy different from that of Europe is misguided; it simply made interaction that bit more complicated.
Ms Seighart also mentions that in 2003 the UK was still considered the third most influential country in the EU. I wonder if that still stands today. Due to our own disinterested stance, it often feels we are not leading, but being led. Perhaps we would have had more say in the negotiations over bailouts, which will directly affect us, if we had joined the euro 10 years ago when we had the chance. Instead we're paying the bill while Germany and France are managing the project.
Mary Honeyball MEP
Mary Ann Sieghart's contention that the euro is a disaster for Europe is grossly premature.
St. Albans, Hertfordshire
'Work ethic' or exploitation?
I employ British workers who do a satisfactory job for an agreed fair day's pay. Alternatively, I could employ any number of migrant workers who would be prepared to do the same job for half the rate of pay. I choose to continue to employ the British workers because I am loyal, and see loyalty as an important, yet perhaps outdated virtue. But according to your leading article ("Iain Duncan Smith takes a wrong turn", 2 July), to prefer British workers is "immoral". It seems to me that British workers get a bad press simply because they are not prepared to be exploited.
I take issue with your leading article of 2 July. While the skills and training of Britons could certainly do with some improvement, the main barrier to our getting jobs are the low wages and poor conditions of service that employers are increasingly offering.
Employers often favour migrant workers for their so-called "work ethic". How can us Britons compete with migrants such as the Polish worker who, interviewed on Radio 4 last week, cheerfully boasted that he regularly works a 15-hour day?
We used to have this kind of "work ethic" in Britain. During the industrial revolution it was commonplace. We haven't lost it; we fought our way out of it, largely through the efforts of the Trades Union movement. We are right to demand the kind of meaningful life outside of work that such long hours make impossible.
We should not be expected to work more than 40 hours a week, and we should be paid a decent, living wage. It's the Government's job to protect us from employers who attempt to circumvent these basic human rights by importing workers from countries where they don't apply. Recent governments, rather than living up to this responsibility, have actually colluded with employers. I therefore welcome Mr Duncan Smith's initiative, which is neither bigoted nor racist, as some have suggested.
Perhaps he could start by giving up the UK's exclusion from the EU Working Hours Directive that was so shamelessly negotiated by Tony Blair.
Penarth, ale of Glamorgan
Iranian refugees under threat
Your article "Ahmadinejad seizes on America's retreat at 'anti-terror' conference" (27 June 2011) unjustly attacks the 3,400 Iranian refugees living in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
At Iran's behest, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered his armed forces to attack the camp on 8 April, leaving 36 unarmed and defenceless men and women dead with hundreds of others injured. The author plainly ignores this crime against humanity and the fact that the camp is under a complete siege. Instead, the PMOI members in the camp are wrongly described as cultists.
I attended a rally in Paris on 18 June in which some 100,000 Iranians of all ages turned up to support the brave residents of Camp Ashraf and call for their protection by the UN. There was a striking presence of Iranian youths and women. In other words, what took place in Paris was a microcosm of Iran and was the manifestation of the call to the UN, US and EU for protection of Ashraf residents. Among the Americans who attended were the former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, and former congressman Patrick Kennedy. The signatures of 4,000 MPs from across 40 nations, including most European countries, were put on display alongside an international statement calling for Iraqi forces to lift the siege of Ashraf and for the UN to take over the camp's protection.
It is incumbent on the international community and the British media to highlight the reality of the tragic events at Ashraf so that we do not witness yet another Srebrenica-style massacre.
David Amess mp
(con, Southend West)
House of Commons, London SW1
Appalled by modern manners
I could not believe my eyes as I read the responses of your correspondents (1 July) to Carolyn Bourne's letter about manners. Has the world gone mad? In my childhood, even the most deprived child knew the meanings of words like "uncouth", "vulgar" and "common", and knew that such behaviour was unacceptable to right-thinking people. Judging by the responses to Carolyn's eminently reasonable list of dos and don'ts, such words have gone out of fashion, probably as a result of the vulgarity which assaults our senses every day from the media.
Let me put the contrary opinion before your readers. There is nothing more displeasing to a host than having a guest who does not abide by the normal and acceptable standards of behaviour. I am affronted when men start eating before ladies. I am horrified when people help themselves to refills without seeking permission. It is beyond the pale when people eat with their fingers or, even worse, pick up food from a communal plate with their fingers or with cutlery which they have used. I despair when they carry on in such a way in front of children, who will probably copy them. These are not petty or trivial opinions; they are at the core of acceptable human relations. I feel sorry for anybody whose standards have become so debased that they don't recognise these facts.
As for Carolyn, plant your flag firmly in the ground, to be a beacon for the poor souls whose behaviour tends more towards that of animals than to that of ladies and gentlemen.
Michael K Baldwin
The X-Men's Jewish origins
Martyn P Jackson (letters, 22 June) writes that the X-Men comic was an allegory for the civil-rights movement, but it's always seemed to me that there was a far more personal reason for the X-Men. The fact that Stan Lee (Stanley Leiber), Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzburg) and quite a number of early Marvel employees were Jewish but chose to work under Anglicised versions of their names might be an indication of the still-significant degree of anti-Semitism in the early 1960s in the United States.
The idea behind the X-Men was that they were born mutants, and born with their powers – somewhat like being born Jewish. They were good, but were hated and distrusted by ordinary Americans, which is perhaps how a persecuted minority would feel?
The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (led by Magneto), on the other hand, could be interpreted as Lee's view of the Jewish Zionist movement. The marked change in how the comic has portrayed Magneto over the years seems to mirror the unqualified support Israel now enjoys from the US.
Customers still want cheques
I don't consider myself notably Luddite; I am broadbanded, Eftpos-enabled and reasonably e-savvy. But it would be a real problem to me if banks phased out cheques. I write only 10-20 a year, but still the facility is an important means of sending money to people in lieu of searching out payee-account details, setting up a funds transfer and notifying them you've done it. Not everybody wants to give away their bank details to strangers either – I certainly don't, as it's been proved that with just the routine account details fraudsters can extract money.
The banks promote themselves as customer-friendly; perhaps they should listen to what their customers want instead of trying to push through what they want to do for their own convenience.
Great Amwell, Hertfordshire
My bank has recently informed me that guarantee for payment by cheque is being withdrawn. This is, of course, part of the banking sector's agenda to abolish cheques. Four alternatives to cheques are indicated: debit cards, direct debit, standing orders and direct payment (i.e. in branch, online or through telephone banking). None of these is really practical for charitable and voluntary organisations, paying plumbers, decorators etc or settling debts between individuals.
In the case of the last option, it is hard to see how it would work for those who do not live close to branches or do not have online access. The chairman of the Payments Council has said cheques will not be scrapped until a viable alternative is available. What and when might that be?
Name of the game
While Liam Fox is busy making changes to the way the Ministry of Defence spends its funds (report, 27 June), perhaps he might consider a change of name? It is many years since the funds were used for defending. All the recent military campaigns have been about attacking; campaigns of choice, rather than necessity. If Ministry of Attack is a little too blunt, perhaps Ministry of Offence has the right ring to it?
Happy though I am to read of the Berkeley Square tawny owl (leading article, 29 June), permit me to observe that the "melodious imagination" that placed a nightingale there was not that of John Keats, but that of, in 1940, Manning Sherwin (tune) and Eric Maschwitz (words).
Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway
No wonder Mick Jagger did not understand the wedding vows he took in Bali. He seems to think "Satyameva Jayate" is an Urdu phrase , so I presume he is less than fluent in Sanskrit (report, 30 June).
Knaresborough, North Yorkshire
Northchapel, West Sussex
Perspectives on German industry
Involve the workers in planning
Steve Richards's analysis of "What the Germans can teach us" (30 June) only skims the surface of Britain's parlous economic position in relation to that of Germany. The legal requirement for major employers to establish workers' councils, ensuring that unions participate in strategic management decisions, is a vital key to the success of German manufacturing industry. It avoids the adversarial nature of labour relations which has always prevailed in Britain and which has led to so many strikes over the years.
If a company's workforce can be brought into the planning process then they will be more receptive to the need for adequate investment in research and development, in order to ensure that new product is of a high enough standard to be competitive and attract the customer. By focusing their efforts first and foremost on pay demands, workers' representatives in the UK have failed to look to the longer-term survival and prosperity of employers.
Most observers would agree that the effective demise of the British motor industry through the 1970s and 80s was due in large part to the lamentable quality of the cars, vans and trucks designed and produced in the UK – think Austin Allegro. Those product shortcomings were attributable not to poor engineering per se, but to those vehicles having to be developed on the cheap. Why? Because short-sighted unions, refusing to recognise that adequate funds from a finite pot were needed for companies to develop high-quality products, demanded that those funds be channelled instead into their pay packets.
A country of quiet efficiency
I have just returned from Basel where I was struck once again by the sense of civil stability of the Germanic countries. They have built far more cohesive societies than ours, by ensuring good public services, relatively small wealth differentials and investing in high-quality skills and facilities, rather than the cost-cutting quick fixes.
In addition to workers' councils, the Swiss and Germans have retained flat management structures rather than padding their organisations with spurious layers of hierarchy simply in order to "justify" remuneration differentials. Teachers, for example, are autonomous individuals who are trusted to get on with their core business without the burden of the multitudinous imposed "initiatives" and absurdly complex management structures. They are also paid more and teach less – and so are freer to concentrate on the quality of their work, while also retaining more control over their work-life balance – the opposite of the authoritarian British approach. Negotiation rather than imposition is the order of the day.
Perceived injustice is at the root of the current discontent in the UK, and this might have been avoided if British employees still had some meaningful control over their working lives.
Meanwhile, countries like Germany and Switzerland have quietly got on with building relatively equitable, democratic, efficient and sustainable societies that we are light years from matching. If you want to understand everything that is wrong with everyday life in the UK, just spend a week in Switzerland or Germany.
Coggeshall, EssexReuse content